Court Reduces Unity Journalists’ Prison Sentence to 7 Years

By San Yamin Aung 2 October 2014

RANGOON — Magwe Divisional Court on Thursday reduced the sentence of five journalists from the defunct Unity Journal from 10 to 7 years’ imprisonment with hard labor following an appeal by the defendants, their lawyer said.

“The court reduced the imprisonment for the journalists with three years this morning,” lawyer Robert Sann Aung told The Irrawaddy.

“We appealed for acquittal from the [previous] court verdict, but the court only reduced their jail term with three years. A reduction of only three years imprisonment is not special because the journalists still have to face seven years in jail,” he said.

Robert Sann Aung said the defendants will appeal for a full acquittal by the Supreme Court of the Union in the capital Naypyidaw within the next 15 days. “We will appeal step by step until the journalists get acquittal from the sentences,” he added.

The five journalists are currently being held at Pakokku Prison.

On July 10, a Pakokku Township Court sentenced four journalists and the CEO of the Unity journal to 10 years imprisonment with hard labor under the colonial-era State Secrets Act for reporting allegations that a Burmese military facility in the Magwe Division township was being used to manufacture chemical weapons.

The President’s Office had filed a lawsuit against CEO Tint San, 52, and journalists Lu Maw Naing, 28, Sithu Soe, 22, The Yazar Oo, 28, and Aung Thura, 25, for publishing state secrets and trespassing.

The sentence caused outrage among the Burmese media and rights activists, and gave rise to concerns over a worsening of media freedom under the President Thein Sein government, which has initiated a number of criminal cases against several media organizations in recent months and passed controversial media laws.

In 2012, the government had begun to lift draconian media restrictions such as pre-publication censorship and a ban on daily newspapers that were enforced for decades under the previous military government.